City-business partnerships can help fulfill ambitious pledge

Now that the United States has resumed a global leadership role in addressing climate change, the country must start to collaborate to support the Biden administration’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. Cities and businesses that have been testing and advancing policies and approaches will be key partners as the federal government works to achieve this ambitious goal of reducing emissions 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Successful partnerships model a proven strategy to advance climate solutions, and several outstanding partnerships are detailed in American Mayors and Businesses, Building Partnerships for a Low-Carbon Future, our latest annual installment of case studies from around the nation. The case studies are produced by the Alliance for a Sustainable Future, a partnership of The United States Conference of Mayors and C2ES. The alliance works to inform mayors, local officials, and business leaders of innovative partnership-based climate strategies.

The report details the following initiatives:

  • The Blue Horizons project in Asheville, North Carolina, replaced a coal plant with an efficient natural gas combined-cycle power plant and an extensive energy-efficiency initiative.
  • The Solar Workforce Development project and the Building Environmental Performance Standard in St. Louis is working to train a workforce for the green energy economy and reduce emissions from buildings in the city.
  • West Sacramento, California, has deployed an accessible ridesharing program, called West Sacramento On Demand, to expand sustainable mobility options for seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Finally, St. Petersburg, Florida, is improving its public transit and road systems with a Clean Energy Plan that is increasing livability and reducing emissions from the transportation sector. The city also partnered with CycleHop to bring a bikeshare program to the area.

Many of these initiatives were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented new public health and budget challenges and unforeseen project constraints. Despite these challenges, public-private partnerships to address climate change have flourished.

Two key themes tie the cities’ efforts together: an emphasis on collaboration between the community and decision makers, and the inclusion and centering of historically underserved populations in program design.

Community collaboration

Partnerships that implement solutions with broad community support are more likely to find success and this has proven true for the climate solutions profiled here. The city of Asheville and Duke Energy partnered with multiple local organizations to serve and educate underserved communities when rolling out an extensive energy-efficiency initiative as they replaced a coal plant with an efficient natural gas combined-cycle power plant. Efforts to combine community voices and goals with technical expertise produced a plan that will lead to a cleaner, more affordable, and smarter energy future for local residents.

St. Louis is the first city in the Midwest to adopt a Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) aimed at reducing energy use in municipal, commercial, institutional, and residential buildings 50,000 square feet and larger. Because the policy would affect more than 1,100 buildings, collaboration with local representatives, building owners, and affordable housing organizations was crucial for passage. During the planning stage of creating the BEPS, the city prioritized communication and cooperation with affordable housing organizations to ensure transparency with those in vulnerable communities the policy will affect.

In order to address the largest emitting sector, transportation, the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, focused its Clean Energy Future plan on expanding access to public transit and non-motorized (e.g., pedestrian, bicycle) modes. The city engaged a variety of partners to implement a multi-pronged transportation strategy to provide a diverse range of transit options for all city residents. The city also introduced a bike-sharing program to immense success and popularity, so that program was extended and expanded.

Climate solutions for underserved communities

It has become increasingly clear that the benefits of climate solutions are not always equitably distributed. As the new administration strives to address this, it can look to how these cities are implementing solutions that can also benefit underserved communities.

Asheville’s Duke Energy project made sure to bring benefits of the project to vulnerable communities and partnered with community nonprofits to weatherize low-income housing, alleviate poverty, and expand opportunities for residents.

Among the five pathways to clean energy in St. Petersburg’s Clean Energy Future, the city focused on incentivizing public transportation for commuters. Officials addressed a lack of public transportation and safe non-motorized transit, including “active transportation” like walking and biking. The program also installed EV charging units, specifically with equitable access, highest utilization, and resilience in mind.

West Sacramento noticed that elderly residents and people with disabilities needed additional safe transportation options. The city collaborated with community organizations to help shape an innovative option for senior citizens, teenagers, and people with disabilities. West Sacramento On Demand particularly prioritizes seniors; in addition to offering senior rates and targeted outreach, an AARP grant offered free rideshare scholarships and additional on-boarding support.

Finally, the St. Louis solar workforce pilot program aims to reduce barriers for disadvantaged populations from participating in the green economy. In partnering with a local employment non-profit and solar companies, the program emphasizes outreach, hands on training and soft-skills development to help local residents that are unemployed/underemployed to enter the solar workforce.

The case studies in this document highlight how cooperation between cities, the public, and the private sector can support community-driven goals of addressing climate change and improving the lives of disadvantaged populations.

The efforts exemplify the value of practical partnerships between local governments and private businesses in accelerating climate change solutions. The federal government can support partnerships like these to provide solutions for communities and meet the lofty commitments of the U.S. NDC.